How to juggle work, family and further study

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After completing an undergraduate degree and working for a few years, Sarah Sytema realised she needed more business knowledge to take the next step in her career, so she started a Master of Business Administration (MBA) online at Deakin University. After beginning her MBA at 27, she graduated in 2016 aged 33. Why did it take six years? During that period Sarah had two children, now aged two and four, and grew professionally from a role as a capital works development officer to managing strategic planning for recreation in the Wyndham community. How did she manage to juggle study, family and her career so successfully?

She paced herself

When Sarah was considering her further study options, flexibility and coursework that would enable her to understand key stakeholder objectives were important considerations. Using Deakin’s Cloud Campus gave her the opportunity to complete subjects online, at times that suited her. ‘I only ever had the expectation of myself to complete one subject per trimester,’ she says. Because Sarah took it slowly, she had the advantage of completely focusing on every subject she completed.

She got involved with the online community

Although Sarah was completing her study at home, she didn’t feel isolated because she had the support of staff and students through the digital tools she had access to. ‘The capacity to engage created a sense of connection,’ she says and in particular she highlights the ‘Blackboard’ program, which operated as an open tutorial environment, rather than a one-way dialogue from lecturer to student.

Sometimes deferring was essential

Circumstances changed over the six years Sarah studied. ‘One year into the course I fell pregnant with my first child,’ she recalls. Sarah completed two subjects during her pregnancy and deferred for a trimester. With a newborn, she completed a few more subjects and then fell pregnant with her second child. ‘Then I was raising two small children and going to work three days per week,’ she says. On top of this, she chipped away at her study. Being realistic during times when her priorities changed helped her to get through the process. ‘You need to set clear expectations for yourself,’ she says.

There were times when things don’t go smoothly

Having sick children, taking time off work to care for them and then returning to an increased workload due to absence from the office could often have an impact on her ability to manage the study requirements. If that wasn’t enough she added community work as a scout leader to her obligations. ‘Having a supportive partner and trying to share the load was important,’ she admits. ‘I did hold mummy guilt a bit,’ she adds. Understanding how to manage free time helped her to find a balance between expectations.

She focused on why she was doing it

Postgraduate study should be carefully considered before taking the leap. Sarah says people should think about what their motivation to study is. ‘Is it about ticking a box on your CV or developing yourself and your capabilities?’ When it gets tough, knowing why you’re doing it will help you to stay on track. But, she concludes, ‘You don’t have to put your life on hold. I want to follow my passions but not to the detriment of my family. You have to work out how to make it work.’ Further study can come with great life experiences, too.

In her final assessment, Sarah completed Audacious Leadership training, a practical leadership course at sea, completed aboard the Windeward Bound ship. ‘What better way to connect with yourself than in a five-metre swell in the Southern Ocean?’ she concludes.

The Deakin online MBA was recently rated #1 in Australia and is one of the nation’s most highly regarded business programs. Find out more about Deakin University’s MBA.

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